[ FOOTBALL ]
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Brian Cabral, acting Colorado head football coach, ate at the St. Louis Drive-In, across the street from Saint Louis School, where he starred as a linebacker in the '70s.
Making the best
of a bad situation
Saint Louis alumnus Brian Cabral
is at the helm of a program dealing
Irene Uyeno doesn't know Brian Cabral is in the middle of the biggest offseason story in college football. But there is a hint of recognition in her eyes when she sees him. She catalogues the thousands of faces by the decades during which they went to high school across the street.
"From the '70s, yeah? I remember you," the counter-woman at the St. Louis Drive-In says with a smile.
Cabral, a graduate of Saint Louis School who often crossed Waialae Avenue for a plate lunch, smiles back. He's happy someone from a much simpler time recognizes him, and that it has nothing to do with the Colorado football scandal.
Not that the interim head coach at CU is hiding from anything. Far from it. Although scandal continues to rock his beloved college alma mater, Cabral still must attempt to convince high school coaches and players and their parents of the positives of playing football for the Buffs. Recently, he visited high school campuses in Hawaii, asking coaches about possible recruits for next year.
Of course, the coaches had many questions for Cabral -- such as, is there any guarantee there will be a Colorado football team in the near future? And if there is, who will be around to coach it?
"It really is ironic," Cabral says between bites of teriyaki. "I'm still selling standards and policies that Gary (Barnett, the suspended head coach) put in place. But now we're the ones being scrutinized. The thing I try to reinforce is, as a result of this, Colorado is going to be one of the cleanest programs in the country."
LIFE AROUND the football offices at Boulder has been a roller coaster since he took over after Barnett's Feb. 18 suspension, Cabral says.
Less than two weeks ago, the program received what Barnett termed "vindication" when the state's attorney general decided there was no merit to several allegations that Colorado players committed rape. But then, last Friday, a grand jury heard testimony from a former escort service employee that a CU recruiting assistant, Nathan Maxcey, used athletic department money to arrange sex for recruits.
Some days are good, some are bad.
"The Nathan Maxcey situation was nothing new, it was already out there," Cabral said in a follow-up telephone interview Friday. "Evidently, there must be a reason to have a grand jury.
"Until it's settled, it's going to be that way. As we get closer to the end, things will be popping up. It's clearing itself out."
One of the biggest questions now is if Barnett will be clearing his desk out -- along with, perhaps, Cabral and other staff members.
Cabral said the report resulting from the university's internal investigation has reached CU president Elizabeth Hoffman's desk after it was reviewed by the CU regents last week.
The report concludes university officials failed to properly oversee the athletic department, but did not condone misconduct, an Associated Press report yesterday said.
"She's got everything that's been researched and will make a decision by the end of the month," he said.
That means Cabral's more-than three-month term as acting head coach, which included guiding the team through spring practice, will end soon. In some ways, this was a nightmare for him, in other ways a wonderful dream come true. And to say his future is uncertain is an understatement. He could end up back in his old job as associate head coach, as a candidate to permanently replace Barnett, or out of a job altogether if the school decides to get rid of everyone.
"Things are looking good for Gary. It's just a matter of the dust settling," he says.
WHILE CABRAL HOPES and believes Barnett will be back, he also says he's gained confidence in his ability to run a team over a long haul.
"One thing I realized through all this is I can be a head coach," Cabral, 47, says. "I've had the desire the last several years to work toward that. This confirms that I'm capable and ready. I have had aspirations, and I knew I would probably have to leave Colorado."
But will he be considered a pariah?
"That could be," he says. "Possibly, my association with the university for so many years might be considered a negative. At the same time, if schools look past that, they can see that I dealt with problems, recognized them and dealt with issues. I learned how to be ahead of the game."
He certainly was as a player, first as a star linebacker at Saint Louis and then Colorado, and later as an outstanding special teams player for the Chicago Bears during an 11-year NFL career. He was team captain at Colorado, and a member of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears.
The husband (wife Becky) and father of three (Kyle, Maile, Mele) has been a coach at CU for 15 seasons.
Cabral has coached multiple All-Americans and eventual NFL players. He has one stain on his record. In 2002, he admitted to contacting high school recruits during the spring, which is against NCAA rules. He was made to pay his way to an NCAA compliance seminar and was suspended from recruiting.
"What I learned from that is there is nothing worth compromising your integrity for," he said later. "Even though I thought I was doing what everybody else did (in coaching), that did not make it right. It was a pretty humbling experience for me to come before that NCAA committee, in front of our (athletic director), head coach, president and chancellor."
CABRAL WAS RAISED to adhere to a strict personal code of honor.
His father, Walter Cabral, was the first Hawaiian to play at Notre Dame and later became a career army officer.
Celeste Cabral, a nun at the Benedictine Monastery of Hawaii, believes there is a reason her brother is interim head coach of a scandal-rocked team he may never lead into a game.
"I believe God put Brian in this situation because he can shoulder it," she says. "He's a man of very strong faith."
He is an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, in addition to a "prayer team" of 22 people, mostly comprised of former NFL and college football friends. Cabral says he has received lots of support from people all over Hawaii and the rest of the country.
Two of Cabral's three recruits from Hawaii -- Jordon Dizon of Waimea and David Veikune of Campbell -- have stood by CU through the turmoil. Tavita Thompson of Saint Louis orally committed to Colorado, but signed with Oregon State because of the scandal.
Spring football in April couldn't come quickly enough for Colorado after the media circus of February.
"Our winter lifting and conditioning program were also critical. That helped (the players) get away from the controversy and focus," Cabral says. "They couldn't wait to get on the practice field (for spring football). It was true for the coaches, too. We knew we could control what was happening on the football field, and that was important since we didn't have control of the situation going on around us."
Cabral says spring practice was a huge success (it wasn't perfect, though, as a player and assistant coach were suspended and junior running back Brian Calhoun might transfer).
"On the first day of practice, 500 people lined up on our path to the field to show support. It was a big thing for us to start that way. It set the tone and we had a great spring. We did not have one bad practice."
The players believe in his leadership.
"It was good to have a man of integrity and character to step in and put us in the right direction," starting quarterback Joel Klatt told the Rocky Mountain News.
Cabral finishes his teriyaki plate lunch, a favorite he can't find in Boulder, and ponders the irony: The college he loves might make the game he loves better, but in a personally painful way.
"No doubt. There's going to be (recruiting) reform. Now it will happen sooner," he says.